First Vision Resources

We were left with a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of general conference this year—the promise of a unique general conference next April celebrating the 200th anniversary of the year Joseph Smith said he experienced the First Vision. President Russell M. Nelson spoke briefly of various events in Church history, including the First Vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Priesthood, and the foundation of various Church organizations. He then encouraged us to: “prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.” Among that preparation was the suggestion to: “begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price” as well as the Book of Mormon resources that the Church is currently releasing. From that launching point, he encouraged us to: “Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration. As you do, general conference next April will be not only memorable; it will be unforgettable.”[1]

 

With this challenge to study in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of resources that focus on the First Vision that I have found insightful or interesting. In compiling this list, I have mostly focused on resources that are available online. The list is not comprehensive and I’m sure that there are plenty of valuable and interesting resources that I’ve missed. Feel free to post more in the comments.

 

Church Resources:

The Church has made resources available to study about the First Vision, including the known accounts of the vision. If you read nothing else, take the time to read through all of these accounts (via the first link). My personal favorite is the 1832 account, which I wish was included in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith book chapter on the First Vision.

There are also two gospel topics essays listed below—one a general introduction and one that tries to respond to some concerns about the accounts of the First Vision. There are a ton of links to other articles about the First Vision on the gospel topics essay pages, so there’s plenty to explore there. The other two links I’ve placed below are to chapters in official Church manuals that discuss the First Vision to give some context and ideas for reflection.

 

Primary Accounts of the First Vision (Joseph Smith Papers)

Regularized Primary Accounts of the First Vision (Joseph Smith Papers)

The First Vision (Gospel Topics Essay)

Accounts of the First Vision (Gospel Topics Essay)

Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 3: The First Vision

Foundations of the Restorations, chapter 2: The First Vision

 

Church-sponsored Podcasts and Videos:

Past Impressions, episode 1: “Prelude to the First Vision”

Past Impressions, episode 2: “Historical Accounts of the First Vision”

Joseph Smith Papers, episode 5: “First Vision Beginnings”

Joseph Smith Papers, episode 16: “First Vision – Part 1 – Importance”

Joseph Smith Papers, episodes 17, 18, 19, 20

Joseph Smith Papers: First Vision Accounts

 

Critical Point of View:

I feel like it’s a good thing to be able to see what the Church is responding to and to understand what concerns people have. Doing so often pushes me to develop a more nuanced view of the issue at hand. I know that not everyone feels the same way about approaching contrary viewpoints, though. I also know that there is no dearth of websites and blogs and podcasts delving into the issues surrounding the First Vision, but MormonThink provides a good summary of what critics of the Church find concerning about the First Vision and how it’s treated.

MormonThink “The First Vision”

 

Scholarly Articles about the First Vision:

There are a lot of important articles about the First Vision that have been published over the years. The top ones that I recommend reading if your time is limited are James B. Allen’s “Emergence of a Fundamental” and “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought,” Richard Lyman Bushman’s “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” and Dean C. Jessee’s “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.”

 

For a collection of important articles, see Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper’s Exploring the First Vision, available online through BYU’s Religious Studies Center. Links to the articles listed below that also appear in this collection are posted at the end of the citations (as “see also here”) and are often more easily accessible than the original publications.

 

Anderson, Richard Lloyd. “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences.” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (1969).

Allen, James B. “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smiths First Vision—What Do We Learn from Them?” Improvement Era (April 1970), pp. 4-13. See here for an updated version.

—        “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought.” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 7 (1980) 43-61. See also here.

—        “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 1, No 3 (Autumn 1966), 29-45. See also here.

Backman, Milton V., Jr. “Awakenings in the Burned-Over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision.” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (1969). See also here.

Bushman, Richard Lyman. “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith.” BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997-1998), 183-204.

—       “The First Vision Story Revived.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4, no. 1 (1969): 82-93. See also here.

Godfrey, Matthew, “The Second Sacred Grove: The Influence of Greenville, Indiana, on Joseph Smith’s 1832 First Vision Account,” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 4 (2018). (Note: this will become available to non-subscribers in about 4 years.)

Harper, Steven C. “Evaluating Three Arguments Against Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 2 (2012) 17-33.  See also here.

Hill, Marvin S. “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), 35-53.

Howard, Richard P. “Joseph Smith’s First Vision: The RLDS Tradition.” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 7 (1980) 23-29.

Jessee, Dean C. “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” BYU Studies Vol. 9, no. 3 (1969). See also here.

Jones, Christopher C. “The Power and Form of Godliness: Methodist Conversion Narratives and Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Spring 2011), 88-114.

Lambert, Neal E. and Richard H. Cracroft. “Literary Form and Historical Understanding: Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 7 (1980): 31-42.

Porter, Larry C. “Reverend George Lane—Good ‘Gifts,’ Much ‘Grace,’ and Marked ‘Usefulness.’” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (1969). See also here.

Prince, Gregory A. “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Historical Context: How a Historical Narrative became Theological,” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 41, No. 4 (2019): 74-94 (Note: this will likely become available to non-subscribers next year.)

Taysom, Stephen C. “Approaching the First Vision Saga,” Sunstone 163 (June 2011): 12-22.

 

Some Interesting Articles and Blog Posts:

Banack, Dave. “Practical Apologetics: The First Vision,” Times and Seasons, 4 Sept 2014.

—       “The New Harmonized First Vision Account,” Times and Seasons, 5 May 2016.

Bhodges, “How to ‘know Brother Joseph again’ using the First Vision,” By Common Consent, 2 May 2014.

Christopher, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision and Methodist Conversion Narratives,” The Juvenile Instructor, 19 Dec 2007.

Christopher, “The First Vision and the Qualifying Eye of Faith,” The Juvenile Instructor, 17 Jan 2008.

Cook, Jared, “What does the First Vision mean in light of a limited view of the apostasy?”, By Common Consent, 9 Jan 2017.

John Nilsson, “Our Foundation Stories Part II: The Meaning of the First Vision,” Mormon Matters, 4 June 2008.

 

References:

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Closing Remarks,” CR October 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/57nelson?lang=eng. See also https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-10-06/general-conference-october-2019-first-vision-joseph-smith-163457.

10 comments for “First Vision Resources

  1. JC
    October 8, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Harper has a major new work coming out very soon.

  2. Kurt M.
    October 8, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    Excellent resources—thanks, Chad!

  3. October 8, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    JC and others who may be interested: Steve Harper’s new book (First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins) was recently released via Oxford.

  4. Rockwell
    October 8, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    Thanks for all the links and resources. I’m going to have to read the whole post again to get a handle on them and decide which to read.

    I fully support your reference to all first vision accounts, … But… But… But… With some reluctance, I seem to remember the conference talk that teased the next conference encouraged members to study specifically the first vision account as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. It seemed a carefully worded message to me, scripted to tell knowledgeable folks to stick to canon without informing the majority of membership that other accounts exist.

    I may be reading to much into it. I wonder what others think. Have members been advised to stick to the canonical version in PoGP?

  5. Chad Nielsen
    October 9, 2019 at 7:10 am

    Thanks JC and Kurt M. That’s good info.

    You bring up a good question, Rockwell. I just looked at the published text of the talk, and President Nelson does encourage us to use the PoGP account as a starting point: “You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.” He does add, however, that we should: “Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration.” So, my take is that he is encouraging us to study topics of Church History, specifically those leading up to the Church being founded, but leaving it up to individuals to choose how to best approach it (with a couple suggestions for starting points).

    Now that I’ve seen that the text of the talk is released, I think I’ll go update the opening paragraph of my post to better reflect that.

  6. October 9, 2019 at 9:04 am

    I may have missed it but did you want to include the JSP harmonized version…. https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2016/05/the-new-harmonized-first-vision-account/

  7. Raskolnikov's Successor
    October 10, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Great list of articles. You may also wish to add Greg Prince’s insightful article about the First Vision. This article was a turning point for my in contextualizing the various accounts of the first vision (in which a tremendous amount is lost trying to simply harmonize them with the canonical account) and the developing theology of Joseph Smith at the time of the First Vision and the writing/telling of the various accounts.

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jmormhist.41.4.74#metadata_info_tab_contents

  8. Mark Ashurst-McGee
    October 11, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Another interesting Church resource is the new First Vision film in the Church History Museum.

  9. Mark Ashurst-McGee
    October 11, 2019 at 6:22 pm

    Also:

    Stephen C. Taysom, “Approaching the First Vision Saga,” Sunstone 163 (June 2011): 12-22.

  10. Chad Nielsen
    October 11, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you John, Mark, and Raskolnikov’s Successor. I’ve added some of the references you suggested.

Charitable Comments Welcome

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.